Organised crime groups from England who are allegedly operating in Scottish towns selling and storing drugs have been targeted by police.
Operations have been carried out in Peterhead and Fraserburgh to tackle alleged ‘cuckooing’ and ‘county lines’ where drug dealers from larger cities establish business operations in small towns in bid to avoid detection.
County lines operations generally deploy vulnerable people, such as those with addictions and mental health issues, to hold or sell drugs with instructions often issued from outwith Scotland.
Following a covert police operation in the two towns, 20 people have been arrested.
A number have been or will be reported to the Procurator Fiscal, police said, with officers supported by drugs, alcohol and health workers to get people the help they need.
Detective Chief Inspector Lorna Ferguson said: “Tackling drug misuse is not just about the police putting doors in and executing warrants.
“Whilst this is an important part of disrupting the supply, we must also address the wider issues that bring about drug abuse in the first place.
“Providing people with support in relation to housing, health, and employment is just some of the steps we can take to encourage those with substance and alcohol addictions to seek help.
“However, we will also continue to pursue criminals who travel typically from the north west of England to deal drugs in the North East. We are clearly hearing from our local communities that illegal drug activity is not wanted or welcome here and we will take action to disrupt this behaviour.
“These drug dealers exploit people in the local community in order to establish themselves to sell or store drugs. We rely on information from the public about this kind of suspicious behaviour and I would like to encourage anyone with information to speak to us.”
County lines have long been established between the north-west of England and the north east of Scotland, with criminals from Merseyside and cities such as Wolverhampton at work over many years.
Meanwhile, police officers from Highlands and Islands recently led a cross-border operation against those alleged to be involved in moving hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine into the north of Scotland.
Newspaper reports at the weekend suggested that three-quarters of drug dealing in Scotland is co-ordinated by gangs based in Merseyside.
Children as young as nine have been known to deliver drugs in backpacks to towns and villages as the county lines extend deep into rural areas.
Detective Inspector Rob Sim, from the Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism Unit in Aberdeen, said the aim was to disrupt the activities of those involved in serious and organised crime at all levels, particularly those who travel to the northeast to exploit the drug market.
He added: “This operation has been commissioned to target Organised Crime Groups that we know are operating in our local communities as well as to target the local drug dealers they are using at street level.”
Wayne Gault on behalf of Aberdeenshire Alcohol and Drug Partnership said: “We should never forget that many of the individuals that suffer from addictions are distressed and in crisis. They are the victims of unscrupulous drug dealers who are only concerned about the money they can make. In many cases, these people are themselves vulnerable and anything that we can do to break the cycle of addiction and harm is absolutely the right thing to do.”